I haven’t been posting much lately for a number of reasons, but the major one is that I now have a drone in my life, which means I’ve been spending a lot of time learning the ropes. And there are a lot of things to learn…
I posted one of my first photos from the Phantom 4 a few days ago. Since then, I’ve travelled with it to Gdańsk, a city on the coast of the Baltic Sea in the north of Poland. The trip was planned much earlier for a variety of personal reasons, but I used it to spend some time flying around the coastline and in the city itself.
Flying a drone isn’t exactly hard, but it does have its challenges. I chose the DJI Phantom 4 for a number of reasons, one of which was that it’s automated in a variety of ways. I’m not that into flying itself, but rather into what it offers — in this case, a camera mounted on a gimbal beneath the quadcopter. So when making the decision to purchase this ‘toy’, I saw it as a camera with four engines, which would allow me to offer unique perspectives in my photography and travels. In regard to the automation features I mentioned earlier, the major selling point was that the Phantom 4 can hover in place without assistance, allowing me to focus on framing my shot, instead of worrying that I’ll crash into someone or something. It also has dual compasses and IMUs for redundancy, hopefully minimising uncontrolled fly offs. Another advantage of the Phantom 4 is its compact size — I just ordered a Manfrotto D1 backpack, which will allow me to fit the drone and accessories inside, along with my Fuji X100T (and X-Pro2 or X-T2 with a few lenses in the future). This will allow me to fit everything I need for a day of shooting on my back, whether I’m travelling my foot, bike, car or aeroplane, and it shouldn’t be that heavy either — I estimate everything to top out at five kilograms (my ex-DSLR gear weighed in at 10 kilos).
While flying a drone may be or seem easy, it gets much harder once you switch off the GPS and various other functions of the Phantom 4. In addition to mastering flying itself, there are many laws and safety procedures that need to be followed, which most people unfortunately completely ignore — this includes no-fly zones, being aware of the maximum altitude you can reach in the area you are in, and trying to predict the dangers on your chosen flight path, so as not to cause anyone any harm. Some countries also require the operator to pass various exams that prove she or he knows what they’re doing. While this is not currently required in Poland for recreational flights, I still plan on getting my license in the near future.
Many UAV pilots pride themselves on building their own aircraft and knowing their construction by heart, which enables them to fix anything and everything at a moments notice. This reminds me of Android phones, where I can buy a Nexus and then root it, load a custom ROM, and perform various other modifications, which are to my liking. The DJI Phantom 4, on the other hand, is more like Apple in many ways. It’s a closed device, which is not user-serviceable to start off with — should anything happen to it, it will need to be sent off to their service facilities. But what it does offer is simplicity — it took me about five minutes to take the quadcopter out of its box, put the rotors on, configure the DJI GO app, start my first flight (not counting the 30 minutes I first spent charging the battery of course), and land it twenty minutes later. Oh, it can also land by itself, or return ‘home’ if your controller loses contact with it.
While using this particular drone for photography is quite simple — you fly to where you want to, set up the shot while the drone hovers by itself, and press the shutter button — shooting quality videos is a much more complicated affair, especially if you want to create some cool effects. I haven’t mastered the controls sufficiently yet — the shots I’m after require me to use three different controls at the same time, and control the camera’s settings too. Flying sideways at a stable speed, while slowly gaining altitude and turning the drone, trying to keep the subject in the frame by panning the gimbal delicately, is something which reminds of playing a game of Quake back in the day. I’ll bet I would have already gotten the gist of it, were I still in my twenties.
I’ll be spending a lot of the most immediate future getting as much flight time as I can, but in the meantime, if you have any questions about the DJI Phantom 4, feel free to drop me a line in the comments below.